Food and asthma

by JANE CLARKE, You magazine, Mail on Sunday
February 10, 2002

As a member of a family that's plagued by asthma (my mum, brother, sister and

nephews all suffer from it), I always welcome new studies and theories about

how the incidence and impact of this debilitating disease can be reduced.


our family's not alone: one in seven children in the UK is now afflicted by

asthma, while the number of children under five who have developed asthma and

wheezing has nearly doubled over the past decade or so.

Hereditary and

allergic tendencies apart, with such statistics making it clear that modern

life is exacerbating breathing problems, maybe it's time to take a closer

look at the influence that food and diet has on asthma.

The worrying rise in the number of children whose lives are being blighted by

asthma has prompted researchers to focus on the relationship between

nutrition and asthma in children in particular.

Professor Anthony Seaton, of

the University of Aberdeen, recently ascertained that children whose diet was

lacking in vegetables, fibre, milk, vitamin E and essential minerals had an

increased risk of developing a breathing-related illness, a finding that

other scientists generally support, although further research is called for.

As for me, both my common sense and clinical experience tell me that building

more fruit and vegetables into a balanced diet will boost the immune systems

of all children, asthmatic or not, helping them to ward off colds and other

respiratory illnesses.

Broadening the picture to include adult, as well as young, asthmatics,

steroids can wreak nutritional havoc on the body because they leech calcium

from the bones, the concern being that a deficiency of this mineral can

result in brittle bones and ultimately osteoporosis.

Anyone who has to take

steroids should therefore try to redress this depletion by eating plenty of

calcium-rich foods every day and should also give certain foods and habits,

such as smoking - as unbelievable as it may sound, some asthmatics do smoke -

a wide berth. Being as active as possible (subject to your doctor1s advice)

will strengthen your bones, too.

The richest nutritional source of calcium comes in the form of dairy

products, including skimmed, sheep and goats' milk products, while the

cheese-making process raises the calcium content even higher.

Asthma-sufferers should aim to consume a little more than the recommended

calcium intake for non-asthmatic people (800mg), which, translated into

practical measures, equates to either 500ml (just under a pint) of milk, a

couple of small pots of yoghurt or 75g of cheese a day for children, and

850ml of milk, 500g (a large pot) of yoghurt or 125g of cheese for adults.

This may sound a lot, but won't seem so daunting if you think in terms of

having cereal with yoghurt or milk for breakfast, a yoghurt after lunch and

an evening meal that includes cheese or a milkshake or yoghurt.

If you're averse to dairy products, alternative calcium sources are green,

leafy vegetables, such as curly kale, spinach, watercress and broccoli (which

children notoriously hate, so disguise them by puréeing them). Other

calcium-providers include okra, tofu, dried figs and apricots, tinned fish

with soft, edible bones (think sardines, pilchards, salmon and mackerel),

sesame seeds, almonds and white bread.

Because non-dairy calcium-containing

foods contain substances that confine some of the calcium to the gut, if

you're on steroids, it's important to seek a dietician's specialist advice on

how to ensure that your non-dairy calcium intake is sufficiently high to

counteract the steroids' negative effects. It may be that taking a supplement

is the only answer.

If it is to build and maintain strong bones, calcium needs vitamin D to help

it in its work, a vitamin that the body manufactures mainly as a response to

sunlight, which is why children should be encouraged to spend plenty of time

outside (but remember to protect their vulnerable skins with sunscreen during

the summer months).

And because adult skins are less efficient metabolisers

of vitamin D, the deficit should be made up by eating lots of vitamin

D-packed foods, such as oily fish and eggs.

Finally, because caffeine interferes with the body1s ability to absorb

calcium, I'd advise you to keep your consumption of tea, coffee, chocolate

and colas to a minimum.

Having a lunch of cheese on toast washed down with a

chocolate milkshake, for example, or a breakfast of yoghurt mixed with

blackberries followed by a cup of coffee, nullifies the calcium-bestowing

qualities of the dairy produce because the caffeine within the chocolate and

coffee confines the calcium to the gut. The upshot is that asthmatics should

only drink cola, coffee or tea between meals.

Returning to our nation's children, the sooner they all start enjoying a

well-balanced diet that includes fresh vegetables and dairy products, the

rosier the future will look for both their bones and lungs.



Serves 6

6 large baking apples, such as Bramleys

4 tablespoons pine kernels

3 tablespoons walnut pieces

4 tablespoons figs chopped

75 g/3 oz sultanas

2 tablespoons runny honey

475 ml/16 fl oz apple juice

Preheat the oven to 180°/350°/gas mark 4.

Core the apples with an apple-corer and remove the pips. Taking each

apple in turn, cut a line around it circumference about two-thirds of the way

up, just deep enough to cut through the skin, to stop the apple from bursting

during cooking. Arrange the apples in a ceramic baking dish.

Blend the pine kernels, walnut pieces, figs(saving a few chopped

whole pieces for decoration), sultanas and honey in a food processor until

the mixture is smooth. Using a teaspoon, pack this mixture into each of the

apple cavities, allowing a little to pop out of the top. Arrange the

remaining figs pieces on top of each apple.

Pour the apple juice over the

apples, cover the dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the

apples are fluffy.

Jane Clarke(BSc SRD), sees patients at her Nutritional Consultancy; 29 Frith

Street, London, W1V 5TL, Tel 020 7437 3767.

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